A’s rally fails after just 1 hit in 8 innings
AP Sports Writer
BOSTON — For eight innings, the Oakland Athletics could barely hit the ball against Jon Lester.
In the ninth, they threatened to make up for it against two relievers.
Lester struck out a career-high 15 and allowed one hit and no runs, pitching the Boston Red Sox to a 6-3 win on Saturday.
“It’s easy to just cash it in after you’ve struck out 15 times in eight innings and hadn’t had too many good swings and you’re frustrated,” Oakland manager Bob Melvin said. “And then to get those kind of at-bats in the ninth inning, it’s good. It should help out leading into” Sunday’s finale of the three-game series.
Tommy Milone (0-3) allowed a grand slam to Jonny Gomes in the first and leadoff homers to David Ortiz in the third and David Ross in the fourth.
“It’s tough when you give four in the first inning and then their ace guy goes out there and he starts striking people out,” Milone said. “He looked like he was on from the first inning.”
Lester (3-4) faced 26 batters and just nine hit the ball in fair territory. The only A’s to reach base against him were Craig Gentry on a leadoff bloop single to short right field in the third and Derek Norris on walks to start the fifth and eighth.
“That’s the best performance I’ve seen him have,” said Oakland’s Nick Punto said, who played 65 games for Boston in 2012.
But the lefty didn’t feel very good warming up before the game.
“It’s probably the worst cutter I’ve thrown in a bullpen in a long time, but I don’t take much stock in my bullpens anymore,” Lester said. “You’re down there to get loose. I think the biggest thing for me is just getting on the mound and getting that adrenaline going.”
Oakland scored three runs off Chris Capuano in the ninth and had the tying run at the plate against Koji Uehara, who had walked a batter. Then Uehara struck out Alberto Callaspo and retired Brandon Moss on a fly to right, securing his seventh save in seven opportunities.
“I knew we had it the whole way,” Lester said. “We’ve got the best closer in baseball out there.”
He rebounded from taking the loss in his previous two games by striking out nine of his first 13 batters.
His previous strikeout best was 13 on July 24, 2010, in a 5-1 loss at Seattle.
“He looked pretty cozy out there,” Gomes said.
Lester, who threw a no-hitter on May 19, 2008 against Kansas City, struck out every hitter in the Oakland lineup, fanning Josh Reddick three times and Punto, Callaspo, Coco Crisp and Josh Donaldson twice each.
Milone allowed Gomes’ homer after Pedroia walked, Xander Bogaerts singled and Ortiz walked.
“It always seems that every time you walk somebody they have a tendency of scoring,” Milone said, “so it just took that one big hit from Gomes to set the tone.”
Milone struck out the next four batters but ran into trouble again in the third when Ortiz led off with his sixth homer of the year. Ross started the fourth with his third homer.
Lester threw 119 pitches before being replaced by Capuano to start the ninth. In his previous two starts, Lester threw 118 pitches in a 7-2 loss to the New York Yankees on April 22 and 122 in a 4-1 loss at Toronto last Sunday.
Punto started the ninth with a double and took third on a single by Crisp. Both scored when Jed Lowrie doubled and left fielder Gomes threw wildly to the plate for an error. After Donaldson was hit by a pitch, Uehara walked Yoenis Cespedes.
Norris hit into a forceout at home, but catcher Ross’ throw to first went wild, allowing a run to score before Uehara ended the threat.
NOTES: Donaldson extended his on-base streak to 25 games when he was hit by the pitch. … The Athletics have scored no runs while Milone was in the game in his three losses. … Capuano hadn’t allowed a run in his other 12 outings this season. … Pedroia has reached base 35 times in his last 17 games. … Sonny Gray (4-1) pitches for Oakland in the finale of the three-game series against John Lackey (4-2) on Sunday.